Fernando España is at the forefront of Lean construction practices in the US and abroad.
With over 30 years in the construction industry, España has extensive experience in the facilitation, definition, design, implementation, monitoring, and optimization of Lean solutions.
He is the president of CornerCube, a Dassault Systèmes partner located in the San Francisco Bay area, which offers Lean construction solutions, 3D technology solutions, and related technical services to the AEC industry.
España recently offered his perspectives with us regarding the current state of the industry, trends in technology, and Lean Thinking. Below is a transcript of a portion of our conversation.
How have you seen AEC technologies evolve, and where are they headed?
Over the past decade or so, the adoption of 3D modeling has been the most widespread. When I started exploring 3D parametric technologies in 1997, it didn’t exist for AEC.
We looked to the manufacturing industry for solutions before the rest of the AEC industry picked up on its value. Now, investing in 3D is a requirement.
Today’s disconnected point solutions will be replaced by integrated, collaborative systems. The best systems will enable anyone on a project to contribute no matter if they are an owner, stakeholder, architect, engineer, contractor, subcontractor, fabricator, or vendor. If there’s an impact, everyone should be able to participate in solving the problem.
Otherwise, a reliance on technology specialists to address daily challenges, prevents project team members from achieving optimal solutions, and limiting value for the owner.
I see big advancements in collaboration software are starting to come into play.
What’s so limiting with point solutions?
Point solutions are typically designed around a single purpose.
They require specialists, have limited accessibility, and discourage interaction with those that could benefit from their designed purpose. Point solutions typically do not integrate well with other software tools—even those considered “best available” actually drive sub-optimal workflows.
For one, scheduling tools without robust production planning processes aren’t worth anything. At most they have limited value.
Schedules are typically produced by just a few people, who are disconnected from those who actually do the work. They may appear comprehensive but don’t reflect true production processes, or how the work will actually get done.
If you compare products of scheduling efforts to actual process planning outputs by those that do the work, they never match.
Even the smartest project managers can’t capture the enormity of the project in a schedule. Compare this to Lean planning techniques, where the work is planned at the shop level. There’s no contest.
We have the same problem with popular design and construction tools that do not support collaboration or reflect actual production processes. A design model is created and then passed on to someone downstream, usually in construction. When it’s taken into a planning or production environment, more often than not we find limited value and end up rebuilding it. This is a common experience even when models are passed from construction to fabricators.
Point solutions disconnect solution seekers from solution providers. Data isn’t shared seamlessly. Drawings, checklists, plans, and schedules are all maintained separately.
It needs to be easier for everyone on the project to get information when they are contributing to a job or seeking a solution.
Is there a general resistance to or interest in this shift?
Unfortunately, over-reliance on schedules and “lowest price” mentalities still dominate AEC projects. But this creates an opportunity for companies that want to break out from their competition.
If we embrace collaboration and the open exchange of information, we can reduce waste and offer more value to owners.
This can be tough in an environment where everyone is competing for control, where you have a bunch of type-A personalities on the job.
But this is where proactive leadership and Lean Thinking come into play. If you have Lean Thinking, you’re bringing value and growing. Otherwise, you’re destined to remain a low-price competitor.
Companies need to constantly innovate or become a commodity. We need to innovate around processes—how work gets done, not just what gets done.
Can technology help improve processes?
We’ve seen collaboration tools, social environments, and 3D-centric technical solutions make an incredible positive impact on project deliverables.
AEC technologies can now provide visibility into the enterprise and project ecosystem that we haven’t had before. Fully integrated systems based on improved processes generate more solution alternatives, enable better early decisions, and create optimization opportunities.
They allow business leaders to focus on delivering value to customers.
For those who adapt to new AEC technologies, what does the future hold?
Integrated systems that enable collaboration will have a significant impact on how we communicate and work with each other over the next 3 to 5 years.
We will reach equilibrium among organizations that need to share information. We won’t be stepping on each others’ toes, like some project teams are experiencing now.
Once we have embraced the improved processes and social tools, and are easily sharing information, we can fully focus on production. As in Lean manufacturing, production processes will happen concurrently with the design process.
A big opportunity will be in applying automation: when 3D models talk with machines and with people, and programs automatically trigger pre-planned actions. That’s where we’re heading. We will see that when models talk to each other, they help us make better decisions and coordinate intricate handoffs.
If you don’t start by adopting an integrated collaboration system, you’re going to miss the whole movement.
In 10 years, with the help of AEC technologies, project teams will find harmony and synchronization. There will be a seamless integration between owners, designers, engineers, vendors, manufacturers, those responsible for on-site assembly, general contractors, and subcontractors.
Akio MORIWAKI is a member of the AEC Industry team. You can reach him on Twitter @MoriwakiAkio.